July 13, 2014
Britain has a “historical responsibility” to provide military support to Iraq’s Kurds to fight Islamic State jihadists; their security chief has told The Telegraph. Masrour Barzani called on the West to make a “decision to eliminate Islamic State for good”. He warned the Kurds’ Peshmerga fighters lacked modern weapons to counter the extremists’ captured tanks and armoured vehicles and without help they faced defeat. Britain’s responsibility for drawing up the borders of the modern Middle East meant the UK had a duty to back them in the face of sweeping advances by Islamic State forces, he said. The chancellor of the Kurdish region’s Security Council spoke as British and American military officials proposed a helicopter airlift to rescue tens of thousands of Yazidi refugees trapped on a mountain as they fled the extremists’ ultimatum to convert or die.
Up to five RAF Chinook helicopters arrived in Cyprus on Wednesday, poised to join a rescue mission. The Pentagon announced that more than 130 American military advisers had arrived in the region to draw up a rescue plan. But Mr Barzani said Britain should still do more. He said: “Britain was responsible for drawing the map of the Middle East. We are the victims of some of the mistakes in the past. They have a historical responsibility. They have to do much more than they are doing.”
Unless the Peshmerga received heavy weaponry soon, they risked being unable to defend their territory and 1.2 million refugees, including minority Christians, and seeking sanctuary from the jihadists’ onslaught. Mr Barzani said: “Islamic State has tanks, they have armoured vehicles, American-made Humvees: they have much more firepower in their possession. Unless we have similar or better firepower it will be difficult to defeat them.”
Kurdish defences had been seen as the last bulwark against the jihadists in northern Iraq, but collapsed last week. The onslaught brought Islamic State within 30 miles of the oil-rich Kurdish town of Erbil, and allowed them to take Sinjar on the border with Syria, sending tens of thousands of civilians fleeing to the mountain range outside the city.
Military sources said an airlift appeared to be the leading option, but the biggest problem was the sheer number of trapped people and the difficulty of securing the landing sites. One military source said: “After the first wave of helicopters, and once everyone knows where they are landing, you will have every man and his dog turning up. If that’s not controlled, it will be a nightmare.”